It’s that time again. The leaves are turning to flame and falling. Darkness is suddenly flicking the switch at 5.30pm like a grumpy boarding school matron. Beaches sigh, wistful but resigned, as we pack up our picnics and head indoors. And across New Zealand, book lovers are dusting off their lanyards and jotter pads and preparing for the literary event of the year.

It’s the Auckland Writers Festival next weekend.

Some of you may remember the post I wrote in the lead-up to last year’s festival. It was a decidedly unauthorised and entirely subjective guide to the various types of festival attendees you were likely to meet at a literary festival. If you go to these types of events and you haven’t read the post yet, you might want to wander over and see if you can pick yourself out. If you don’t go to these types of events, read it anyway; it’s quite amusing.

This time, I thought I would cross over to the dark side and provide a guide to the kinds of authors you can expect to see at a literary festival. All entirely tongue-in-cheek, of course. Not a scrap of truth to any of it.

A Festival-Goer’s Field Guide: Authors

1. The Best-Seller.

Easy to spot by the long queues at the autograph tables after his session. Speaks quietly but confidently. Often slips out the back door to avoid clamouring female book-club members. Invariably bad dress sense.

2. The Booker Prize Winner.

Closely related to the Best-Seller, only shinier. Often escorted by important-looking “minders” as she makes her way through festival throngs to her session. Speaks eloquently and at length. Incomprehensible. Most commonly heard call: “I was surprised and overwhelmed and then very rich.”

3. The Superstar.

Closely related to 1. and 2. but distinguishable by his infinitely better dress sense and (let’s be honest) infinitely crappier novels. Makes squillions. Obviously doesn’t spend any on writing classes.

4. The Overnight Success.

Wanders on stage with a dazed look on her face. Perpetually puzzled but vaguely delighted. Will sign autographs until her hand falls off.

5. The Obscure One.


6. The Politically Correct Activist.

Often identified by bright hessian poncho and hemp trousers. Dazzlingly brilliant. Reads from her poetry collections (with titles such as I Bleed in Tune with the Moon) without the aid of a microphone, and accompanied by recorded whale song.

Most commonly heard call: “Would you ask a man that question?”

7. The One-Hit Wonder.

Closely related to the overnight success, but more desperate. Carries a dog-eared, autographed copy of his one and only novel everywhere. Often spotted at the book stall, flicking through copies of it. Most commonly heard call: “What do you mean, you haven’t sold any?”

8. The Bore.

Characterised by an extremely large résumé and extremely small audiences. Sweaty.

9. The Regular Fixture.

Trundled out year after year but always consigned to the minor “performance chambers” instead of the main stage. Distantly related to the bore but often much nicer, and more interesting. Most commonly heard call: “Could someone please ask me a question I wasn’t asked last year.”

10. The Inappropriate One.

Often loud, invariably oblivious. Causes interviewers to laugh nervously and rapidly change the subject, and entire audiences to cringe. Surprisingly successful.

11. The Nervous Intellectual.

Causes entire audiences to strain forward in their seats in an effort to hear what she is saying. This has the effect of making her even more nervous. Often brilliant. Writes stunning novellas about complicated, oppressed women in small Indian villages, and non-fiction diatribes on industrial espionage.

12. The Dinosaur.

Like the T-Rex, hugely respected, but no-one wants to be in the same room as him. Most commonly heard call: “In my day, there were much better biscuits in the Authors’ Lounge.”

13. The Actor-Author.

Has published a short story collection but feels he has to act more like a “real author”. Talks with hands steepled under his chin. Wears tweed. Uses phrases like “narrative existentialism” and “genre fiction” a lot. Always at the bar. Most commonly heard call: “The writer’s life. It’s hell, you know. Pass the biscuits.”